Egypt's state-run media starting to shift from pro-Mubarak coverage

The trappings of a determined protest movement - chanting, flags and raised fists - fill Tahrir Square, the hard-won enclave of those who seek a new Egypt. But some there fear an enemy in their midst.
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, February 9, 2011; 8:17 PM

CAIRO - Over the past few days, journalists working for Egyptian state media have orchestrated a remarkable uprising of their own: They have begun reporting news that casts the embattled government in a negative light.

Whether the change is a sign of a weakened regime that is losing control or the result of a decision by the government to loosen its grip on information remains unclear. But the shift has been hard to miss.

State-run television and newspapers such as the iconic al-Ahram initially dismissed the mass demonstrations against President Hosni Mubarak as nonevents. As the crisis has unfolded since Jan. 25, most people have relied on Arabic satellite channels such as al-Jazeera and news accounts from independent Egyptian dailies and social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook to keep up with events.

As protests against Mubarak's nearly 30 years of authoritarian rule intensified, state television reported on the first lady's gardens and call-in shows featured hysterical women and men entreating people to stop demonstrating. Protesters began carrying banners in Cairo's central Tahrir Square denouncing state-run media and calling the news organizations "liars."

A day after pro-Mubarak forces were unleashed into Tahrir Square last week, inciting a bloody battle that left thousands wounded, al-Ahram reported on its front page that millions of government supporters had flooded the streets, grossly exaggerating their numbers. State television called the anti-Mubarak demonstrators "destabilizing" forces and accused foreign powers of instigating instability.

"During the first 10 days or so, the Egyptian media was shameful," said Rasha Abdulla, chairwoman of the journalism and mass communication program at the American University in Cairo. "It was like they were living on another planet."

But in recent days, state media organizations have started to shift their coverage.

At al-Ahram, after journalists signed a petition telling management that they were frustrated with the paper's reporting, chief editor Omar Saraya changed his tune. Saraya, who is close to the government and is seen as a staunch regime loyalist, wrote a front-page column praising the "nobility" of the "revolution" and urging the government to carry out constitutional and legislative reforms.

At state-run Nile TV, after two of her colleagues quit, Reem Nour met with her boss and told him that she could not tolerate being censored. She said last week that she would not cover pro-Mubarak demonstrators unless she was permitted to cover anti-government demonstrators as well.

The 22-year-old reporter told her news director that people were laughing at the station's coverage. He told her to go out and report, she said. On Monday, for the first time, she told her viewers that protesters were demanding that the regime resign.

"There has been a shift," Nour said. "The shift is happening because there is going to be a change in Egypt after this revolution."

Hisham Qasim, an independent newspaper publisher in Egypt, called the change in state media coverage a clear sign that "Mubarak is slowly losing control."

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